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How to Make a New Year’s Resolution that Sticks

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It was a high school party on December 31st. At 11:55 p.m. a friend I played hockey with said his resolution was to quit smoking. At 12:10 a.m. he lit another cigarette.

Now most of us do better than that!

Fast forward. When I lived in Toronto I went into a gym. The guy said it was busy because it was January, but come February the place would be half empty. I laughed; I’d never be one of those suckers! I was.

Mark Twain once said that New Year’s “is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions.”

Failures and Twain-ish cynicism aside, it’s a legitimate time to think of turning a new leaf. Near year, new leaf, new lease. We want to change for the better. Time for some self-polishing. And there’s an aroma in the air that helps us think we can do it, maybe. Perhaps it’s the cooing of a baby in Bethlehem. A newborn King—a World Saviour who invites us to follow a certain Way. Maybe a fresh calendar stirs something in the soup of your soul.

But many of us are successful failures when it comes to resolutions. So how do we make a resolution that sticks?

Here is some quick advice from someone who’s succeeded at failing, and succeeded at sticking:

1. Make it simple. Be clear and concise about what you want to achieve.

2. Make it realistic. You probably won’t quit your job, go back to school, get a degree and new career in a year. It’s hard to jump 20 steps at once. But you can manage 1 or 2 in the right direction.

3. Believe you can do it. If you aren’t motivated to change you’ll probably run out of gas on January 2nd.  The sugar-high of good intentions only lasts so long.

4. Relate it to the big picture. For example, I have minor back problems and want to take more regular trips to the chiropractor. So I say that I want to improve my back care so that I can play soccer with my kids when they’re 15. The bigger goal is a strong, active family. Big picture.

5. Practice and repetition. To make something happen you need to physically put new routines into practice. You need to re-train your brain by doing. Simply “willing something” doesn’t work.  Real practice builds patterns that make change. If you’re going to spend more time with your partner, craft a routine to support it and work a new budget. Plus, replace negative behaviour with positive—i.e. when you get the urge to slip back into old habits, do something positive and proactive to get your mind off of it.

6. Make it harmonious with God. Pray for yourself. As people mature in their faith, what they find is that prayers are answered with greater clarity and power when they are increasingly in harmony with God’s will. (Part of how learn God’s will is good old fashioned Bible-reading; a zillion years ago St. Jerome said that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” With only the odd exception, this is still true.)  So if your resolution is out-of-step with the Holy One, you’re going to have problems. Oh, you may have some outward “success”—but your fruit won’t ripen in the same enduring way because you’re not in the right garden.

7. Get a team. Get someone to talk to about your progress. By ourselves, we can become out-of-touch or discouraged. Get someone on your team. We all need good cheerleaders who can pat us on the back and also hold our feet to the fire. The problem with being alone isn’t that you’re alone; it’s that you’re not with somebody else.

Chances are, we’re not going to get a 7-point plan to make our New Year’s resolution stick. But adopt a few and you’ll increase your chances of success.

You are a Waterfall
January 1 is a date for change. And we all change whether we know it or not. C.S. Lewis used a great metaphor to describe it. People are like waterfalls. You call it the same thing and it always looks the same (“There’s Cedarview Falls”), but the actual water is continually changing. Our bones, skin and brain tissue is continually being regenerated. No physical part of you is the same as when you were born. But you’re still you. This is an oversimplification but you get the point. Change is unavoidable: why not take an active role in making it the good kind.

Why not make your New Year’s resolution for 2013 stick? You were made to be an awesome you.

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